Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Timbers Pints are Honest

Thank god, Timbers pints are honest pints.

These are the pints season ticket holders were given as a thank you and, of course, I had to check.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

New Beer in the Old Country: US Craft Beer Catching on in the UK

News from across the pond, via the Guardian, is that US Craft Beer is taking off in the UK:

American "craft" brews are revealed as the UK's fastest growing beer trend. Data from Information Resources Inc, a research company, shows that sales of premium lagers imported from the US have increased by 150% over the past year as they are rolled out in the UK's pubs and clubs.

Tesco is launching four of the most popular – Blue Moon, Goose Island, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and Brooklyn – at 750 stores across the UK. "American craft beers have become the UK's fastest growing beer trend and are now starting to muscle in on territory dominated by Belgian and German specialist brews," said Tesco's buyer, Chiara Nesbitt. "UK tastes have been changing for a while now, and more and more drinkers are moving towards flavoursome brews."

Now, we might lament the fact that Blue Moon is a SABMillerCoors product and that Goose Island is now part of the Bud empire, but Brooklyn and Sierra Nevada are legit. In fact there is a good argument to be made that it was Sierra Nevada that was THE pivotal beer that really kick-started the craft beer revolution in the US (Jim Koch disagrees, of course. And my theory of endogenous demand suggests that these early pioneers might just open up all kinds of room for other US craft beers and other UK brewers, like Thornbridge, that brew more American-style craft beer.

Here is another snippet:

"The popularity of American craft lagers is very much down to how they offer similar traits associated with the British brewing scene of older years," said Ian Lowe, of the real ale campaigner Camra. "They are more heavily hopped and are higher alcohol content brews."

The new lagers usually cost anything between 20p and 30p more than their established rivals. Lowe said he believed their increasing popularity indicated a shift in drinking patterns.

"While the American craft lagers are definitely pricier than the lagers and bitters that dominate the UK, even by London standards, I think the public feel that they would rather drink less but drink better," Lowe said. "They are moving away from the tasteless pint that the smooth-flows and lagers from bigger traditional brands offer. They are tired of old offerings of the standard of Carling and Carlsberg."

Still the culture of session drinking in the UK and the high-alcohol content of US craft beer might be a volatile mix...

Beer in Cans: Fort George

Last weekend, I went up on Mount Hood to go camping and at the last minute decided to bring a little tipple along.  Looking for something tasty and appreciating the compact and collapsible nature of the can, I decided this would be the perfect opportunity to finally try craft beer from the can.  Craft beer in cans is not something I have been a big fan of, noting the BPA liners and the general low-brow nature of the can and so I have, until now, resisted.

When I saw Fort George's Vortex IPA, however, it was a easy decision to make.  Vortex is one of my favorite beers and one that I have only ever been able to enjoy at the brewpub in Astoria.  And I will say this for the can, it did preserve the beer perfectly: the aroma and flavor were excellent, and even drinking straight from the can did not diminish the enjoyment.  

I do have one regret, however: Vortex is a massive beer, something I had forgotten.  At 7.4% ABV it is a meal into itself.  Perfect for Astoria's cooler and wetter climate, but less good for a wonderfully warm and sunny weekend on the mountain.  I had a choice between Vortex and Fort George's 1811 lager and I didn't give it a second thought.  I should have, 1811 is a wonderfully over-hopped (for style) lager that is a hop-heads delight and a perfect summer beer.  I should have put off the Vortex 'till later and gone with the 1811.

The other regret is the $12.99 I parted with to buy a four pack of 16 ounce cans.  Were it not for the rush to get off to the mountain and the excitement of the chance to become reacquainted with Vortex, I would have pondered this a bit longer.  This is just too damn expensive.  [Ditto the $5.99 the same Safeway was charging for a 22 ounce Ninkasi Maiden the Shade]  And in this I think I see the rough waters ahead for the craft beer industry: with so much great beer, the companies that can provide it for less are going to be hard to compete with.  When I can get a six pack of Total Domination for $7.99, it is hard to justify the Vortex purchase.

But I digress, the point of this post was both to rejoice at the fact I can now enjoy Vortex at home and to admit to warming to the whole can deal.  Cans, in this instance, were as advertized: handy, easy to deal with and great a preserving the contents.   And big or not, the Vortex was fantastic.

Update: I had to stop in for some supplies and I grabbed a four pack of 1811, which I failed to notice before retails at $7.99 in my local grocery.  Interesting the disparity in prices.  Surely the Vortex costs more to produce, but not 70% more.  So why the price discrimination?  The Vortex must be a hot item while the 1811 less so. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

From Whence Lager Came: Patagonia?!?

CREDIT: by Barry Carlsen/University of Wisconsin-Madison

This is a fascinating article about a real-life yeastie detective story.  Apparently lager yeast is a hybrid - part ale yeast and part something else.  But what something?  No one knew - the genetic makeup was not native to Bavaria where lagers originated.

But now a University of Wisconsin researcher has found the missing link and not at all where you would expect it: Patagonia.  From the LiveScience article:

A fruit fly's journey from Patagonia to Bavaria could be the reason we enjoy nice, cold-brewed lager beers today. The missing parent of the hybrid yeast used for brewing lagers has just been discovered in Patagonia.

Until now, scientists had known lager beers were made from a hybrid yeast, with half of its genes coming from a common ale yeast and the other half coming from an unknown species.

"Nothing they could find in the wild or in the freezer collections could match the missing component of the lager yeast," study researcher Chris Todd Hittinger at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, told LiveScience.


They found the missing yeast growing on southern beech trees in Patagonia. They sequenced the genes and found that this species of yeast was very likely to be a parent of the lager yeast hybrid.

"It’s a 99.5 percent match to the missing half of the lager genome. It's clear that it is this species," Hittinger said.

Each lager-yeast parent contributed one copy of its genome to the special yeast through sexual reproduction. The resulting yeast hybrids are sterile, meaning they can't reproduce sexually, but they can make direct copies of themselves and expand their genetically identical population.

In nature, this wouldn't be a smart evolutionary tactic, because it doesn't allow the yeast to adapt to changing conditions, the researchers said; but in the beer-brewing facilities, where temperatures are constant and food is freely available, the yeast can thrive.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A Visit to Flat Tail Brewing in Corvallis

Flat Tail - the phone cam does not deal with the contrast well, but in front there is lots of outdoor seating.

When I lived in Corvallis, I lamented the dearth of local craft brewpub options.  At that time there were two, neither really meeting the definition of a true brewpub: Oregon Trail Brewing at the Old World Deli and the, then new, McMenamins on Monroe.  In the last few years however two exceptional brewpubs have opened: Block 15 (on which I waxed rhapsodic previously) and now Flat Tail Brewing.

I finally got a chance to check out Flat Tail yesterday when I was in town for some meetings and I came away very impressed.

Full on sportsbar style with lots of Beaver memorabillia

Flat Tail is in what used to be the Fox and Firkin, which after the creation of the waterfront park is now in a lovely spot on First and Madison with ample outside seating.  The location and the outdoor seating give it an advantage over Block 15, at least in these lovely summer months.  But whereas Black 15 is squarely in the 'NW Brewpub style' meaning lots of wood and exposed beams and a wee bit of down home funk (thank the McMenamins for creating the blueprint - and I do mean thank, the bright airy style of the NW brewpub was a distinct break from the dark tavern style), Flat Tail is full on collegetown sportsbar style.  It has gray walls, black furniture, a touch of gloss, and lots of flat screen TVs.  It also is a Beaver heaven with memorabilia covering all the walls.  Go Beavs.  In the 'do TVs belong in pubs?' debate I fall squarely in the yes camp as I am a hopeless sports fan.  I love to have a place to socialize and watch the game while at the same time enjoying excellent house made beer.  Though I am not terribly fond of the decor - I prefer the woody NW brewpub style - I am a fan of variety and find Flat Tail a nice break from that tradition.

iPhone cam not really up to the task, but here is the brewery

I don't know if the attached brewery was a part of the Fox and Firkin's space, I suspect not, but it is a wonderfully large space in which a reasonably large brewhouse has been placed.  I didn't think to ask, but I suspect it is in the 10 barrel range.  You can see the brewery from as couple of windows as you walk in and, in a nice touch, a whiteboard informs you of what is being currently brewed.

Flight of tasters - yum.

But what matters most is the quality of the beer.  I am happy to say the beer is generally excellent.  Their flight of tasters includes 8 and the very knowledgeable and friendly barkeep threw in a few more he was excited to share with me.  The range of styles was impressive - quite a few sours as well as hoppy NW standards and some very interesting experimental beers.  I must say I preferred the sours, with the 3% ABV "KSA" a real standout.  Here is how they describe it:

The second batch fermented 100% on oak with our Corvaller Weisse sour yeast blend. Brewed with oats, rye, wheat, and malted barley, then fermented with Gotu Kola nut, raw cacao nibs, and cherry juice. KSA has an incredibly complex nose of cherry, cocao, and spicy woodiness. This enamel strippingly sour ale retains its sessionable nature with a thirst quenching 3%ABV.

It was fantastic. Not the least bit lacking in flavor or body, a true session beer and great summer thirst quencher. I found the standard lineup (Amber, Pale and IPA) quite good but nothing really stood out.  I noticed a house hop quality in the more hop-centric beers like the IPA to be a bit of harsh bitterness and less aroma than in my favorites, but all three were exceptionally well-crafted beers.  I really enjoyed their version of an English extra special bitter (the EST), the malt body was perfect, but I was not overwhelmed by the use of Perle hops in lieu of EKG or Fuggles.  I love Perle in, for example, Double Mountain's Kolsch, but didn't think they matched well with the malt. The stout was great as well, wonderfully roasty but not too dense.

Speaking of Kolsch, theirs is exceptional and I was told it will be their first bottled beer (and will be available in the Market of Choice chain statewide).  This is a great call, nice counter-programming from all the IPAs out there.  Their Kolsch is less spicy than DMs, but clean, refreshing and nicely balanced.  It is also crystal clear making me wonder if it was filtered.  The barkeep was not sure. 

Two other beers are worth mentioning.  The have a very nice apricot wheat, which is a nice dry American wheat beer with just a hint of apricot which is a study in restraint and very satisfying.  And then there is the El Guapo:

This unique summer ale is brewed with over 35 pounds of fresh, whole cucumbers, habaneros, and limes fermented directly in our open tank. Rahr 2-row, Weyermann Pilsner, and modest hopping rates allow this flavor combination to shine through.

No doubt this is a very divisive beer, but I loved it (though 3oz were plenty). The cucumber hits the tongue immediately - light and refreshing while the habanero spice comes through in the finish. I am not generally a fan of pepper spiced beers and I wouldn't really want a whole pint of this, but it is a successful experiment and worth a taste at least.

Finally a word about the food. The menu is brewpub/sportsbar: burgers, fries, sandwiches, etc. I had the Old South pulled pork sandwich which was very good and upgraded to onion rings which were excellent. From this small sample I expect the rest of the food to be done well with good attention to detail.

So, all in all, Flat Tail is a fantastic addition to the NW brewpub scene and a wonderful place to hang out on a sunny Oregon summer day or on gray winter days to watch a game and hang with friends. My one disappointment was the lack of any cask offerings - a shameful oversight if you ask me. Hopefully they will get on the cask bandwagon soon.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

On Bubbles and Beer

Jeff at Beervana has a post on new numbers from the Brewer's Alliance and wonders whether we need to start seriously worrying about a bubble in craft beer.  As evidence, he notes this graph.

He also mentions anecdotal evidence that at Jeld-Wen during Timbers games Widmer far out-sells Bud. 

Why do I mention the two together?  It is because, as readers familiar with the blog will know well, my theory of the craft beer industry is that demand is endogenous.  In other words, the more craft beer the more people try it and like it, the more it appears in stores, etc.  I think Portland, Oregon has the largest demand for craft beer in the country not because there is something different about the people or culture, rather because of the length of the history of craft brewing in the state as well and the breadth (see post below about quality beer taps in random pizza joints).  When you get to the point where craft beer far outsells macro lager in sports stadiums, you know the world has changed.

Most cities and states are far behind Oregon and I see no reason why the same kind of demand cannot be developed in other parts of the US.  Therefore I am not ready to call a bubble based on the graph above (and in general as an economist I never think I can call a bubble because by definition if it is obvious it is not a bubble).  I do, however, worry about the ever present economies of scale aspect of brewing which - especially among packaging brewers - will probably lead to winners and losers.  This is not a bubble however, simply that market sorting out the good from the not so good.

But no matter what, the unequivocal good news is in the short run at least, there will be a ton of new beer to try.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Only in Portland

Yesterday, after picking my kids up from their soccer camp, we stopped in at Pizza Roma in Woodstock for a slice.  For non-Portlanders it is a good pizza place, typical and has a nice little tap list despite not being known as a beer bar.  It was lunch and so I didn't partake but among the great beers on offer were Double Mountain IRA, Terminal Gravity IPA, Fort George Vortex IPA and Ninkasi Total Domination.  All four would proabably make my list of top ten favorite beers.  Nice.

Only in Portland do you wander into a random neighborhood slice shop and have such a stellar tap list.

Beervana indeed. 

Visiting Summit

Sam in front of Summit's bar

The last in a series of Summit related posts, I promise.  But as brother Sam gave me a tour of the now 25 year old brewery, it is worth talking about.

Fermenting/conditioning tanks
Summit now resides in a purpose built building that is located close to the Mississippi river in St. Paul.  Apparently they bought, for $1, the land for the building on a brownfield site that the city was interested in redeveloping.  What they built is an enormous brewery using the guts of the old ---- brewery in Germany including a lovely copper lauter tun and boil kettle:

The scale of the place is impressive: their brewhouse is 150 barrels and it runs about 20 hours a day.  They also bought Sierra Nevada's old bottling line which bottles at the rate of ten twelve ounce bottles a second (and yes, that tells you how big Sierra Nevada has become).  It is an impressive place, the scale of which is rarely seen in the craft beer world.

Summit's bottling line
It also gave me the chance to finally try Summit beer.  I had just about the full gamut at their in-house bar, and thus everything was a bit too fast to give a real review but here are some impressions.  The beer I expected to like least, the Red Ale, I liked best: it was nicely hoppy (with Cascades prominently featured) and balanced, it was not malty like I associate with the non-style that is the American red.  I also liked the ridiculously hoppy (and out of balance) silver anniversary ale - I am a hop head after all and a full on blast of hops is always welcome as long as it is not simply bitter and harsh.  , The IPA is a wonderful British IPA - Northwesterners would not embrace it, but old-worlders would find it right in the wheelhouse, full of Norther Brewer and East Kent Goldings it has a lovely soft hop profile.  It is not as transcendent as the Old/New-world masterpiece that is Bridgeport's IPA but very, very nice.  The best selling Extra Pale Ale was not for me, but seems a perfect gateway into the world of craft brew for the macro set.  The porter and the stout were both nice with the stout on nitro and very much the Guinness clone in the sense of being a lower alcohol beer that is dark in color but light on the tongue.

Cold room
 The thing that was most remarkable to this Beeronomist was the fact that 300 barrels of the the one-off Honeymoon Saison were made.  This suggests that the Unchained series has an identity of its own and they are confident it will sell no matter what the style.  And with the PR folks doing a good job selling the human interest side of Sam and Cambers wedding beer story, it will probably not last long on shelves.  
Sam and his beer
Plus, it is a damn good beer.